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John Chuckman



Comments, excluding those which are just name-calling, are a valuable tool of good journalism.

This article deals with Internet sites which are not daily newspapers, and comments on such sites are a somewhat different thing compared to those of a newspaper.

The truth is that comments have been tried and dropped by a number of major newspapers because they can be so embarrassing concerning the paper’s own wishes and intentions. Others severely limit comments’ size and number, a practice otherwise known as censorship.

Let’s be honest, good journalism is hard to find, even in our ‘better” papers like The Guardian.

The publishers of any newspaper do have a set of agendas that have little or nothing to do with reporting news objectively, including everything from puff pieces on favored politicians and put-down pieces on politicians not so favored to favorable pieces on government and its policies, etc, etc.

Also, important these days of so much international involvement and conflict, is the support of the government’s official line in foreign affairs where so often there is no pretence to objectivity or balance.

These purposes of daily newspapers go entirely against the naïve schoolboy stuff of journalism schools and tales such as “All the President’s Men,” one of whose journalistic “heroes” later proved himself anything but a hero, yet they are the everyday reality of journalism.

When was the last time we read an article about Yemen from a reporter inside the country? The same for Gaza, East Ukraine, Crimea, or even continental Russia? Who has good correspondents inside China? Yet there is no shortage of words published on these topics, just a shortage of facts.

We know, even in the best newspapers, that there is no objective reporting whatsoever on such matters. Indeed, every goofy accusation coming out of the Pentagon or CIA, who have full-time staff working on the task – such as Putin is corrupt, Putin murdered someone, Iraq has WMD, Syria kills its own people, Russia bombs civilians, Russia conquered Crimea, Russian missiles landed in Iran, etc. – gets dutifully reported as though true, which virtually none of them are. The names of such exotic places would likely not even be named in our press were it not for reporting Washington-generated press releases.

So a good commenting system provides some incentive to think again before you write, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

Good comments point this out and make a newspaper a better overall source of information, and not just attitude. But, of course, regrettably, many newspapers are not the least truly interested in providing better information.

Good comments also engage reader loyalties which are increasing important in the digital age when readers may switch to newspapers from anywhere and get many alternate news sources.

And there is always Voltaire’s wonderful line about show me the people you are afraid to criticize and you will know who governs you.

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